Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 5 (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 etc)

This note will examine the Synoptic “Son of Man” sayings which relate to the suffering of Jesus. The best explanation for these sayings is that Jesus is consciously identifying with the human condition (as a “son of man”), especially in terms of the experience of hardship, suffering, and death. A particular group of these sayings specifically refer to the sacrificial death of Jesus. If we consider the core Synoptic sayings of the Triple Tradition (Mark, with parallels in Matthew and Luke), more than half of the Son of Man sayings by Jesus refer to his (impending) suffering and death; these include:

None of these sayings are Messianic, as such, but relate specifically to Jesus’ unique experience of suffering and death. The sacrificial, atoning character of this suffering is implied, but stated clearly only in Mk 10:45 par:

“for (so) also the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his soul [i.e. his life] in exchange for [a)nti] many (others) as a way (to) loose (them from bondage)”

In such passages, it is hard to see the expression “son of man” as anything other than a kind of self-reference—i.e., a circumlocution for the pronoun “I”. Yet the original sense of identification with humankind should not be missed: Jesus, as a human being (on earth), gives himself (his own life) on behalf of other human beings.

The Passion Predictions (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 par)

The three predictions by Jesus of his upcoming suffering and death are a central component of the Synoptic narrative, and are found in all three Gospels. They follow the conclusion of the “Galilean Period“, marked by Peter’s confession (Mk 8:27-30 par), and precede the journey to Jerusalem (covered by Mk 10), with the third prediction set as they approach Jerusalem. As such, they are transitional, leading into the Judean/Jerusalem period and the Passion narrative (Mk 11-15). Mark and Matthew essentially follow the same outline; however, Luke has expanded greatly the period of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, filling the span of 9:5118:34 (nearly 9 full chapters) with much traditional material—sayings, teaching, parables, etc. I discuss the three Passion predictions in considerable detail in an Easter season series (soon to be posted here Easter season 2020).

Just as we saw with the two Feeding Miracles (5000 and 4000), there is some question, among critical commentators, whether the three Passion predictions by Jesus reflect separate sayings (and historical traditions) or different versions of the same tradition. The general similarity of the sayings would tend to support the critical view that they derive from a single historical tradition. On the other hand, the three predictions are clearly distinct in the Synoptic narrative, providing the framework for the period prior to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33). It seems likely that this structure was did not originate with the Gospel of Mark, but rather, already existed as an organizing principle for the narrative prior to its inclusion. In Luke, the periodic symmetry of this outline has been altered, due the enormous amount of material between the first two predictions (Lk 9:22, 43b-45) and the last (18:31-34).

There are certain differences between the versions of these three sayings (cf. the earlier study cited above for comparisons); however, the use of the expression “Son of Man” is consistent throughout. The key phrase in the first saying (Mk 8:31 par) is “it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many (thing)s…” Matthew’s version of this saying is the only one which does not use “Son of Man”, being presented indirectly by the narrator: “Jesus began to show his disciples that it is necessary for him…to suffer many things” (Matt 16:21). This indicates that the Gospel writer clearly understood the expression “Son of Man” as a self-reference by Jesus.

The second saying (Mk 9:31 par) is shorter, focusing upon a particular aspect of the suffering, presented in a three-part chain—betrayal, execution, resurrection:

“The Son of Man is (being) [i.e. about to be] given along into the hands of men, and they will kill him off, and being killed off, after three days, he will stand up [i.e. rise] (again)”.

Matthew’s version (17:22-23) is simpler, but generally follows the Markan version. Luke’s version is simpler still (9:44b), but is given a more detailed (and dramatic) narrative setting.

The third Passion prediction saying (Mk 10:33) effectively brings together the first and second, expanding upon them, describing the suffering in more vivid and precise detail. Indeed, Jesus’ statement summarizes the scenes which will be narrated in 14:43-15:20ff. Again, Matthew (20:18-19) follows Mark closely; while the formulation in Luke (18:31ff) is quite different, suggesting here a development of the tradition:

“…and all things written through the Foretellers [i.e. by the Prophets] will be completed for the Son of Man; for he will be given along…”

This emphasis on Jesus’ suffering as a fulfillment of Scripture and the Prophets becomes an important Lukan theme in the remainder of the Gospel (and the book of Acts).

Mark 9:9, 12

In between the first two Passion predictions, and following the Transfiguration scene, Jesus again refers (twice) to the suffering of the Son of Man:

“And, at their stepping down out of the mountain, he set through to them [i.e. to his disciples] that they should not bring through [i.e. reveal] (even) one (thing) of what they saw, if not [i.e. except] (until the time) when the Son of Man should stand up [i.e. rise] out of the dead.” (Mk 9:9)

Matthew (17:9) narrates this as a direct quotation by Jesus: “You should not say (anything) to anyone (about) this sight until the (time at) which the Son of Man should rise out of the dead”. Luke paraphrases the tradition (9:36b), making no reference to the “Son of Man”.

The saying which follows in Mk 9:12 is tied to a separate tradition, involving the eschatological/Messianic figure of Elijah (who is to come), vv. 11-13. It is not certain whether this saying occurred at the same time as v. 9, or has been joined to it thematically. Certainly the Markan v. 10 joins them together in the narrative. The original context of vv. 11-13 is not easy to determine; but, from the standpoint of the wider Gospel Tradition, Jesus would be seen here as identifying John the Baptist with “Elijah”, and referencing John’s suffering (and death) as foreshadowing his own (cf. 1:14a; 6:14-29). This association is made more specific in Matthew’s version of the “Q” material in 11:2-15 (vv. 11-15). In 17:10-13, Matthew follows Mark, but again makes the identification between John and Elijah definite (v. 13). Luke omits the tradition entirely, perhaps because he has already associated John with Elijah elsewhere (Lk 1:17, 76-77; 7:27).

Mark 14:21, 41

The expression “Son of Man” is used by Jesus again (twice) on the night of his Passion. The first (Mk 14:21 par) is set in the context of a woe against the betrayer (Judas); the verb indicating betrayal, paradi/dwmi (“give along”), is also used in the Son of Man Passion prediction sayings (cf. above). The expression “Son of Man” occurs twice in verse 21, as if to emphasize the experience of his suffering (through the betrayal). Matthew (26:24) follows Mark closely, whereas Luke (22:22) has simplified the saying somewhat.

The second saying is set in the garden, just prior to the ‘arrest’ of Jesus (Mk 14:41):

“the hour (ha)s come—see, the Son of Man is given along into the hands of sinful (men)!”

This essentially quotes the second Passion prediction (9:31), substituting “sinful (men)” for “men”. Again, Matthew (26:45) follows Mark, while Luke omits the saying (cf. 22:46).

Along with these Synoptic traditions, Matthew and Luke each include an additional Son of Man saying in the Passion narrative—Matthew’s occurs at the very beginning of the narrative, as a kind of thematic introduction (26:2), while Luke’s occurs in response to the kiss of Judas (22:22). Both of these sayings follow very much in accordance with the main Synoptic tradition summarized above.

In the next note, I will be looking at a different kind of Son of Man saying by Jesus—those which refer to a divine/heavenly figure who will appear at the end-time Judgment. I will discuss the two Synoptic references (Mk 13:26; 14:62), along with a survey other Son of Man sayings in Matthew and Luke (the “Q” material, etc).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 5 (Mk 2:10, 28 etc)

The final topic in this series, dealing with the Galilean Period of Jesus’ ministry, involves the “Son of Man” references and sayings of Jesus. These play an important part in the Passion Narrative as well, but it makes sense to address them here, at this point in the series. I have dealt with the background of the expression “Son of Man” in some detail in earlier notes (to be published here as daily notes for Easter season, beginning March 21), as well an article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and so will not repeat that discussion here. However, it is worth outlining again the three ways that the expression may be used (by Jesus) in the Gospels:

  1. As a general reference to human beings, human nature, or the human condition. In the Old Testament, and in Hebrew/Aramaic usage, “son of man” often occurs in tandem with “man”—the parallel “man…son of man…” is a comprehensive expression representing humankind.
  2. As a self-reference, a kind of circumlocution for “I”—i.e., myself as a human being, this (particular) human being. However, as I have noted, evidence for this usage at, or prior to, the time of Jesus is very slight.
  3. Referring to a divine/heavenly being, who serves as God’s representative on earth, typically in an eschatological context. This usage would seem to derive largely, if not entirely, from the phrase “one like a son of man” in Daniel 7:13 (on this, see my note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

These different possible meanings, or points of reference, often make interpretation of the “Son of Man” sayings difficult. One must also consider what the expression would have meant originally, on the lips of Jesus, and how early Christians (including the Gospel writers) came to understand it. From the standpoint of this series, the “Son of Man” sayings have a special place, since we are able to determine, on objective grounds, that they are authentic traditions, going back to the words of Jesus himself. The expression hardly occurs at all outside the Gospels, indicating that it was not a title that early Christians typically used of Jesus—with “Son of God”, “Lord”, and, of course, “(the) Anointed [i.e. Christ]”, being far more common. Apart from the Gospels (and Acts 7:56, which draws upon Gospel tradition), “Son of Man” is found only in Rev 1:13 and 14:14, where the allusion is clearly to Dan 7:13. Moreover, all of the instances come from Jesus’ own words, or in response to them (cf. Jn 12:34). Taken together, this would confirm that the usage of the expression in the New Testament is derived solely from the words of the historical Jesus. This is not to say that the “Son of Man” sayings did not undergo development within the Gospel Tradition; however, in comparison with other areas of the Tradition, the discernible adaptation has been rather slight.

The Synoptic “Son of Man” Sayings

In the core Synoptic tradition, as represented by the Gospel of Mark, there are 12 (or 13) Son of Man sayings, each of which has parallels in Matthew and Luke. The Markan references are: 2:10, 28; 8:31, 38; 9:9, 12, 31; 10:33, 45; 13:26; 14:21, 41, 62. Only two of these are found in the Galilean Ministry Period—Mk 2:10, 28 par. They have a certain similarity in setting (and meaning), both coming from the section 2:1-3:6 par, a block of traditions with the common theme of the reaction to Jesus’ ministry by the religious authorities (“Scribes and Pharisees”) and the debate/conflict with them which ensued.

Mark 2:10

This saying is central to the healing miracle episode of 2:1-12. Jesus’ declaration to the disabled man (“Your sins are released [i.e. forgiven]”, v. 5) provokes a reaction by some of the people standing by (“Scribes”, v. 6; Pharisees and “teachers of the Law”, Lk 5:17). Their thought seems to be that, by declaring the man’s sins forgiven (“released”), Jesus has taken on a right and power which is reserved for God:

“(For) what [i.e. why] does this (man) speak this (way)? He insults (God)! Who has power [i.e. is able] to release sins, if not [i.e. except] One only—God!” (v. 7)

In other words, a human being (Jesus) is declaring another person’s sin to be forgiven, entirely apart from any ritual activity (as prescribed in the Law), by his own word and authority. This was viewed as an insult (i.e. blasphemy) against God. The first part of Jesus’ response (v. 9) essentially makes the point that the authority to declare sin forgiven is tied to the (divine) power to bring healing. In Greek, the same verb sw/zw (sœ¡zœ, “save, preserve, protect”) can be used for healing from disease, as well as deliverance from the power/effect of sin and evil—two aspects of the concept of salvation. The Son of Man saying occurs in verse 10:

“But (so) that you may see [i.e. know] that the Son of Man holds authority [e)cousi/a] upon earth to release [i.e. forgive] sins…”

There is a fundamental interpretive difficulty at this point. Do the words in v. 10 belong to Jesus, or are they a comment by the narrator? In the first instance, the passage would read (words of Jesus in red):

“What works better [i.e. what is easier]: to say…’your sins are released’, or to say ‘rise and take (up) your mattress and walk about’? But (so) that you may see that the Son of Man holds authority upon earth to release sins…”—he says (then) to the paralyzed (man)—“I say to you, ‘Rise (and) take (up) your mattress…'”

According to the second option, it would read:

“What works better [i.e. what is easier]: to say…’your sins are released’, or to say ‘rise and take (up) your mattress and walk about’?” But (so) that you may see that the Son of Man holds authority upon earth to release sins, he [i.e. Jesus] says to the paralyzed (man): “I say to you, ‘Rise (and) take (up) your mattress…'”

Most commentators opt for the first interpretation above, in which case the reference to the “Son of Man” comes from Jesus’ own lips. Indeed, it is more likely that the narrator’s comment is limited to the words “he says to the paralyzed (man)”, simply to make clear to whom the following words in v. 11 are addressed. But what is the precise meaning of the expression “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) here? An argument can be made for each of the three basic meanings outlined above. The Gospel writers may have understood it as a title of Jesus, though more feasible is the second meaning—as a self-reference (equivalent to “I”). However, I tend to think that Jesus may be using the expression here in the generic sense (meaning #1 above), as a reference to a human being, or humankind generally. According to this view, Jesus’ saying could be paraphrased as:

“But so that you may see that a son of man [i.e. human being] has authority (from God) upon earth to forgive sin…”

There is confirmation of this interpretation from Matthew’s version, which ends with the summary statement (9:8):

“And seeing (this) [i.e. the miracle], the throngs (of people) were afraid, and they esteemed/honored God the (one) giving such authority to men.”

This statement echoes and interprets the Son of Man saying in v. 6 (Mk 12:10). God has given the authority to forgive sins (on earth) to a human being—that is, to one human being, Jesus.

Mark 2:28

I have discussed this passage (the Sabbath controversy scene, 2:23-28 par) in an earlier note in this series. Here we will consider again briefly the Son of Man saying in v. 28. Actually, in Mark’s version, a dual saying is involved, and vv. 27-28 must be taken together:

“The Shabbat {Sabbath} came to be through [i.e. because of] man, and not man through the Shabbat” (v. 27)
“So then the Son of Man is also/even Lord of the Shabbat” (v. 28)

The parallel “man…son of man…” strongly suggests that the generic meaning of the expression “son of man” is intended here, in the original saying(s) by Jesus. For the numerous examples of this (poetic) parallelism in the Old Testament, cf. Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Psalm 8:4; 80:17; 144:3; 146:3; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 50:40; 51:43. However, it is significant that Matthew and Luke both omit (or do not include) any saying corresponding to Mk 2:27, preserving only the second (“Son of Man”) saying (Matt 12:8; Lk 6:5). This increases the likelihood that both Gospel writers understand the expression, in the narrative context, as a (self)-title of Jesus. Matthew, in particular, gives emphasis to the authority and divine status of Jesus, through the added sayings in 12:5-7. By contrast, the emphasis in Mark is more squarely on the priority of caring for human need (i.e. hunger) over and against strict ritual observance of the Sabbath.

To these references one may add the saying on the Holy Spirit in Matthew 12:32 / Lk 12:10. The Synoptic saying in Mk 3:28-29 reads:

“they all will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men, the sins and insults, however they might (give) insult; but he who should give insult unto [i.e. against] the holy Spirit, he does not have release (of that sin) into the Age…”

Matthew preserves a version of this same saying in 12:31-32:

“every sin and insult will be released [i.e. forgiven] for men, but the insult against the Spirit will not be released…not in this Age and not in the Coming (Age).”

However, the author also includes (in v. 32) a separate/parallel saying corresponding to that in Lk 12:10:

“whoever should say a word against the Son of Man, it will be released [i.e. forgiven] for him; but whoever should say (anything) against the holy Spirit, it will not be released for him…” (Matt 12:32)
“everyone who will utter a word against the Son of Man, it will be released [i.e. forgiven] for him; but (for) the one who gives insult unto [i.e. against] the holy Spirit, it will not be released” (Lk 12:10)

Note the apparent confusion in these sayings between sons of men, men, and Son of Man. This may indicate that an original generic use of “son of man” has become (re)interpreted as the titular “Son of Man” in Matt 12:32/Lk 12:10. This latter usage involves a difficulty. If “Son of Man” here refers to Jesus, then it is necessary to explain why a word spoken against Jesus (presumably indicating hostility and unbelief) may be forgiven, but insult against the Holy Spirit would not be. The difficulty is alleviated somewhat if, in the original tradition, the contrast was between human beings and God (the Spirit of God).

These are the only Son of Man sayings in the Synoptics which may use the expression in the generic sense of human beings, human nature, etc. Elsewhere in the Tradition, it is clearly understood as a self-reference or title of Jesus. In such passages, it would seem that Jesus uses the expression as a distinctive way of identifying himself. As we shall see, this mode of expression proved to be somewhat difficult for early Christians; and, as the Gospel came to be rendered more regularly in Greek, the original meaning and significance of the Semitic idiom was largely lost. In the next note, I will survey a group of sayings which relate to the idea of Jesus’ suffering.

March 3: Matt 6:9; Lk 11:2

Matthew 6:9b; Luke 11:2b

The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew and Luke is introduced in a similar way, even though the overall context and setting may be different (on this, see the introductory discussion). Consider both the similarities and differences:

“(So) then you must speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] this (way)…” (6:9a)
ou%tw$ ou@n proseu/xesqe u(mei=$
—An emphatic contrast with conventional religious behavior (vv. 1-8)

“When(ever) you would speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] you must say/speak (this way)…” (11:2a)
o%tan proseu/xhsqe le/gete
—Disciples instructed to follow Jesus’ own example and pattern (v. 1)

The opening word(s) of the Prayer are an invocation to God, as is common in most forms of prayer. As indicated in the translation above, the Greek verb proseu/xomai literally means “speak out (aloud) [eu&xomai] toward [pro$] (someone)”, often in the sense of making a (forceful) request. It was used frequently in a religious sense, i.e. speaking toward God, sometimes referring to a religious vow, but more generally as a petition or wish. The imperative (“you must…”) form of the verb used by Jesus indicates that he is giving authoritative instruction to his followers.

Pa/ter (“[O] Father”) [Lk]
Pa/ter h(mw=n o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$
(“Our Father, the [One who is] in the heavens”) [Matt]
Pa/ter h(mw=n o( e)n tw=| ou)ranw=|
(“Our Father, the [One who is] in heaven”) [Didache]

All three versions of the Prayer begin the same way, with the vocative Pa/ter, “(O,) Father”. The Lukan invocation contains just this single word, while Matthew’s version (followed by the Didache) has a more expansive expression. Most critical scholars believe that Luke preserves the original form of the invocation, as it would have been spoken by Jesus at the historical level (on this, cf. the discussion in the next daily note). Almost certainly, the vocative Pa/ter in Greek is a translation of the Aramaic aB*a^ (°abb¹°) a definite/emphatic form of the noun ba^ (°a», “father”)—literally “the father”, but regularly used in place of the noun with pronominal suffix (yb!a&, Dan 5:13) as “my father”. That Jesus used this Aramaic word when addressing God in prayer is confirmed by the preservation of aB*a^ in Greek transliteration (a)bba=) once in the Gospel tradition (Mk 14:36), where it is translated strictly as “the father” (o( path/r). Paul also uses the transliterated Aramaic in a similar way twice in his letters (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), both times in the context of prayer (involving the Holy Spirit, cf. the next note for more detail).

Jesus addresses God, or otherwise refers to him, as “Father” numerous times in both the Synoptic and Johannine Gospels, though not as often as one might expect in the core Synoptic tradition—just 4 times in Mark (8:38; 11:25; 13:32; 14:36). It is more common in Matthew and Luke (including the “Q” material), being especially frequent in Matthew (41 times, including 17 in the Sermon on the Mount). In terms of the Lukan version of the Prayer, the occurrences in chapters 10-11 are most important:

    • Twice in Jesus’ own prayer (10:21)
    • Three times in the saying which follows, dealing with the relationship between Father (God) and Son (Jesus) (10:22)
    • Once in the teaching in 11:11-13 (“Q” material, cp. Matt 7:9-11)—comparison between earthly fathers and God as heavenly Father. Cf. also twice in 12:30-32 (cp. Matt 6:32-33)

Thus, in his instruction to his disciples, Jesus teaches them to follow his own example in addressing God as “my Father”. The idea of God as Father to humankind is, of course, a widespread religious idea, and well-attested in both the ancient Near East and Greco-Roman world. Of the many passages in the Old Testament, I would note: Deut 1:31; 32:6; Psalm 89:26; 103:13; Prov 3:12; Isa 63:16; 64:8; Mal 2:10. Israel as God’s chosen people was referred to as His children (or, collectively, His “son”), as was the (Davidic) King—Exod 4:22-23; Jer 31:9; Hos 11:1; 2 Sam 7:14; Psalm 89:27ff, etc. God is addressed specifically as “our Father” in Isa 63:16; 64:8 (cf. also 1 Chron 29:10; Tobit 13:4; Sirach 51:10). Other examples in the New Testament are found in the openings of Paul’s letters (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3-4; Phil 1:2, etc). The Aramaic for “our Father” (Gk vocative Pa/ter h(mw=n) would be an`Wba& (°A_»ûn¹°). Jewish prayer tradition, both Hebrew and Aramaic, would often address God this way as “our Father”—for some early examples, cf. the Eighteen Benedictions (5th and 6th petitions); a prayer for rain attributed to R. Akiba (b. Taan. 25b, “Our Father and our King…”); the instruction to children in the Targum Yerus. II on Exod 15:2 (to confess of God, “He is our Father”), etc.

The full expression “Our Father the (One) in the Heavens” (Matt/Didache) will be discussed in the next note.

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.